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Govt announces new rules for care homes amid spread of Omicron variant
10 December 2021, 22:07 | Updated: 4 January 2022, 12:31
Care home residents will be allowed only three visitors and one essential care worker under updated Government guidance announced as part of new measures to protect the sector from the spread of the Omicron variant.
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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the move aimed to "balance the current Covid-19 risk and the need to keep people safe in line with clinical advice".
Fully vaccinated residents visiting family and friends outside the care home will be asked to take a lateral flow test on alternate days for two weeks after each outing, while those not vaccinated will have to isolate following an outside visit.
Staff testing will be increased from two lateral flow tests per week to three, alongside a weekly PCR test.
The Government said specialist vaccination teams are also being expanded and deployed to guarantee all care home residents and staff, and housebound people and their care-givers, are offered a booster jab.
It is understood the guidance will come into force from Wednesday.
More than 70 per cent of older adult care home residents have already received a booster jab, according to the DHSC.
Care homes will be able to request follow-up booster visits from vaccination teams, and GPs will receive higher home visit payments.
The Government said care homes would also benefit from a £300 million fund that can be used to pay for bonuses, bring forward pay rises, fund overtime and staff recruitment until the end of March.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: "Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect the adult social care sector, and the emergence of the Omicron variant means this is more important than ever.
"This new funding will support our incredible workforce by recruiting new staff and rewarding those who have done so much during this pandemic.
"Boosting the booster rollout in social care and updating the visiting guidance will help keep the most vulnerable people in our society safe from the virus this winter."
However, the new restrictions have been criticised by some, with an Alzheimer's charity saying isolation could leave to "significant and irreversible deterioration" of symptoms for dementia patients and claiming the plans were compensating for the fact that many residents still had not had their booster jab.
"More than 70 per cent of care home residents are living with dementia and we know that restricting their contact with loved ones can lead to significant and irreversible deterioration in their symptoms," said James White, head of public affairs and campaigns at Alzheimer's Society.
"As we've seen from NHS England data released this week, a quarter of care home residents are still waiting for their booster vaccination despite promises that all residents would receive theirs by 1 November.
"We're concerned that these suggested plans are being used as a crude sticking plaster due to the failure to meet this vital target."